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This novel is entirely a work of ction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the authors imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. Harper An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 7785 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London W6 8JB www.harpercollins.co.uk A Paperback Original 2014 1 Copyright Jennifer L Armentrout 2014 Jennifer L Armentrout asserts the moral right to be identied as the author of this work A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN: 978-0-00-753099-1 Typeset in Meridien by Palimpsest Book Production Ltd, Falkirk, Stirlingshire Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publishers prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

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Chapter 1
Sweet tea was apparently going to be the death of me. Not because the amount of sugar could send you into a diabetic coma after one slurp. Or because my brother had nearly caused a triple- car pileup by winging his truck around in a sharp U- turn after receiving a text message that contained two words only. Sweet. Tea. Nope. The request for sweet tea was bringing me face- to- face with Jase Winstead the physical embodiment of every girlie girl fantasy and then some that Id ever had. And this was the rst time I was seeing him outside of campus. And in front of my brother. Oh sweet Mary mother of all the babies in the world, this was going to be awkward. Why, oh why, did my brother have to text Jase and mention that we were on his end of town and ask if he needed anything? Cam was supposed to be taking me around so I could get familiar with the scenery. Although the scenery I was about to witness was sure to be better than what Id seen so far of this county.

If I saw another strip club, I was going to hurt someone. Cam glanced over at me as he sped down the back road. Wed left Route 9 years ago. His gaze dropped from my face to the tea I clutched in my hands. He raised a brow. You know, Teresa, theres a thing called a cup holder. I shook my head. Its okay. Ill hold it. Okaaay. He drew the word out, focusing on the road. I was acting like a spaz and I needed to play it cool. The last thing anyone in this world needed was Cam nding out why I had a reason to act like a dweeb on crack. So, um, I thought Jase lived up by the university? That sounded casual, right? Oh God, I was pretty sure my voice cracked at some point during that not- so- innocent question. He does, but he spends most of the time at his familys farm. Cam slowed his truck down and hung a sharp right. Tea almost went out the window, but I tightened my death grip on it. Tea was going nowhere. You remember Jack, right? Of course I did. Jase had a ve- year- old brother named Jack, and the little boy meant the world to him. I obsessively remembered everything Id ever learned about Jase in a way I imagined Justin Bieber fans did about him. Embarrassing as that sounded, it was true. Jase, unbeknownst to him and the entire world, had come to mean a lot of things to me in the last three years. A friend. My brothers saving grace. And the source of my crush. But then a year ago, right at the start of my senior year in high school, when Jase had tagged along when Cam had visited home, hed become something very complicated. Something that a part of me wanted nothing more than to

forget about. But the other part of me refused to let go of the memory of his lips against mine or how his hands had felt skimming over my body or the way he had groaned my name like it had caused him exquisite pain. Oh goodness ... My cheeks heated behind my sunglasses at the vivid memory and I turned my face to the window, half tempted to roll it down and stick my head out. I so needed to pull it together. If Cam ever discovered that Jase had kissed me, he would murder him and hide his body on a rural road like this one. And that would be a damn shame. My brain emptied of anything to say, and I so needed a distraction right now. The perspiration from the tea and my own trembling hands was making it hard to hold on to the cup. I couldve asked Cam about Avery and that wouldve worked, because he loved talking about Avery. I couldve asked about his classes or how he was back in training for United tryouts in the spring, but all I could do was think about the fact that I was nally going to see Jase in a situation where he couldnt run away from me. Which was what hed been doing the rst full week of classes. Thick trees on either side of the road started to thin out, and through them, green pastures became visible. Cam turned onto a narrow road. The truck bounced on the potholes, making my stomach queasy. My brows lowered as we passed between two brown poles. A chain- link fence lay on the ground, and off to the left was a small wooden sign that read WINSTEAD : PRIVATE PROPERTY . A large corneld greeted us, but the stalks were dry and yellow, appearing as if they were days away from withering up and dying. Beyond them, several large horses grazed behind a wooden fence that was missing many of

its middle panels. Cows roamed over most of the property to the left, fat and happy looking. As we drew closer, an old barn came into view a scary old barn, like the one in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, complete with the creepy rooster compass thing swiveling on the roof. Several yards beyond the barn was a two- story home. The white walls were gray, and even from the truck, I could tell there was more paint peeling than there was on the house. Blue tarp covered several sections of the roof, and a chimney looked like it was half crumbling. Red dusty bricks were stacked along the side of the house, as if someone had started to repair the chimney but grew bored and gave up. There was also a cemetery of broken- down cars behind the barn, a sea of rusted- out trucks and sedans. Shock rippled through me as I sat up a bit straighter. This was Jases farm? For some reason, I pictured something a little more ... up to date? Cam parked the truck a few feet back from the barn and killed the engine. He glanced over at me, following my stare to the house. Unlocking his seat belt, he sighed. His parents had a really hard time a few years back and theyre just now getting on their feet. Jase tries to help with the farm and stuff, but as you can see ... The farm needed more help than Jase could provide. I blinked. Its ... charming. Cam laughed. Thats nice of you to say. My ngers tightened around the cup in defense. It is. Uh- huh. He ipped his baseball cap around, shielding his eyes. Tufts of black hair poked out of the back rim. I started to speak, but movement I saw out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. Racing out from the side of the barn, a little boy seated in a miniature John Deere tractor hooted and hollered. His chubby arms were bone straight as his hands gripped the

steering wheel. A mop of curly brown hair shone under the bright August sun. Pushing the tractor from behind was Jase, and even though I could barely hear him, I was sure that he was making engine noises. They bounced along the uneven gravel and ground. Jase laughed as his little brother shouted, Faster! Go faster! Jase appeased his brother, pushing the tractor so it zigged and zagged to a stop in front of the truck as Jack squealed, clenching the steering wheel. Plumes of dust ew into the air. And then Jase straightened. Oh wow-wee. My mouth dropped open. Nothing in this world couldve made me look away from the splendor before me. Jase was shirtless and his skin glistened with sweat. I wasnt sure what ethnicity he had in his family background. There had to be something Spanish or Mediterranean, because he had a natural tan skin tone that remained that way all year- round. As he walked around the tractor, his muscles did fascin ating things rippling and tightening. His pecs were perfectly formed and his shoulders were broad. He had the kind of muscles one got from lifting bales of hay. Boy was ripped. His stomach muscles tensed with each step. He had a very distinctive six- pack. Totally touchable. His jeans hung in decently low low enough that I wondered if he had on anything underneath the faded denim. It was the rst time I ever saw the full extent of his tattoo. Ever since Id known him, Id caught glimpses of it peeking out from the collar on his left shoulder and from under a shirtsleeve. I never even knew what it was until now. The tat was massive an endless knot shaded in deep black, starting at the base of his neck, looping and twisting

over his left shoulder and halfway down his arm. At the bottom, two loops opposite each other reminded me of snakes curling up and facing each other. It was a perfect t for him. A ush spread across my cheeks and traveled down my throat as I dragged my gaze back up, mouth dry as the desert. Sinewy muscles in his arms exed as he lifted Jack out of the drivers seat, holding him in the air above his head. He spun around in a circle, laughing deeply as Jack shrieked and ailed. Ovaries go boom. As Cam opened the drivers door, Jase sat Jack down on the ground and yelled at my brother, but I had no idea what he said. He straightened again, dropping his hands onto his hips. His eyes squinted as he stared into the truck. Jase was absolutely gorgeous. You couldnt say that about a lot of p eople in real life. Maybe celebrities or rock stars, but it was rare to see someone as stunning as he was. His hair, the color of rich russet, was a mess of waves falling into his face. His cheekbones were broad and well dened. Lips were full and could be quite expressive. A hint of stubble shaded the strong curve of his jaw. He didnt have dimples like Cam or me, but when he did smile, he had one of the biggest, most beautiful smiles Id ever seen on a guy. He wasnt smiling right now. Oh no, he was staring into the truck, head cocked to the side. Parched as I was, I took a sip of the sweet tea as I stared through the windshield, absolutely enthralled by all the baby- making potential on display before me. Not that I was in the way of making babies, but I could totally get behind some practice runs.

Cam made a face. Dude, thats his drink. Sorry. I ushed, lowering the cup. Not that it mattered. Wasnt like Jase and I hadnt swapped spit before. On the other side of the windshield, Jase mouthed the word shit and spun around. Was he going to run away? Oh hell to the no. I had his sweet tea! In a hurry, I unhooked my seat belt and pushed open the door. My foot slipped out of my ip- op, and because Cam just had to have a redneck truck, one that was several feet off the ground, there was a huge difference between where I was and where the ground was. I used to be graceful. Hell, I was a dancer a trained, damn good dancer and I had the kind of balance that would make gymnasts go green with envy, but that was before the torn ACL, before the fateful jump had put my hopes of becoming a professional dancer on hold. Everything my dreams, my goals, and my future had been paused, as if God hit a red button on the remote control of life. And I was about to eat dirt in less than a second. I reached out to catch the door but came up short. The foot that was going to touch the ground rst was connected to my bum leg, and it wouldnt hold my weight. I was going to crash and burn in front of Jase and end up with tea all over my head. As I started to fall, I hoped I landed on my face, because at least then I wouldnt have to see the look on his face. Out of nowhere, two arms shot out and hands landed on my shoulders. One second I was horizontal, halfway out of the truck, and the next I was vertical. My feet dangled in the air for a second and then I was standing, clutching the cup of tea to my chest. Good God, youre going to break your neck. A deep voice rumbled through me, causing the tiny hairs on my body to rise. Are you okay?

I was more than okay. My head tilted to the side. I was up close and personal with the most perfect chest Id ever seen. I watched a bead of sweat trickle down the center of his chest and then over the cut abs, disappearing among the ne hairs trailing up from the center of his stomach. Those hairs formed a line that continued under the band of his jeans. Cam hurried around the front of the truck. Did you hurt your leg, Teresa? I hadnt been this close to Jase for a year and he smelled wonderful like man and a faint trace of cologne. I lifted my gaze, realizing that my sunglasses had fallen off. Thick lashes framed eyes that were a startling shade of gray. The rst time Id seen them, I had asked if they were real. Jase had laughed and offered to let me poke around in his eyes to nd out. He wasnt laughing right now. Our gazes locked, and the intensity in his stare robbed me of breath. My skin felt scorched, like Id been standing out in the sun all day. I swallowed, willing my brain to start working. I have your sweet tea. Jases brows crept up his forehead. Did you hit your head? Cam asked, coming to stand beside us. Heat ooded my cheeks. No. Maybe. I dont know. Holding out the tea, I forced a smile, hoping it didnt come across creepy. Here. Jase let go of my arms and took the tea, and I wished I hadnt been so eager to shove the tea in his face, because maybe then hed still be holding me. Thanks. You sure youre okay? Yes, I muttered, glancing down. My sunglasses were by the tire. Sighing, I picked them up and cleaned them off

before slipping them back on. Thanks for ... um, catching me. He stared at me a moment and then turned as Jack ran up to him, holding out a shirt. I got it! the little boy said, waving the shirt like a ag. Thanks. Jase took the shirt and handed over the tea. He rufed the boys head and then, much to my disappointment, pulled the shirt on over his head, covering up that body of his. He looked at Cam. I didnt know Teresa was with you. A chill skated over my skin in spite of the heat. I was out showing her the town so she knows her way around, Cam explained, grinning at the little tyke, who was slowly creeping toward me. Shes never been down here before. Jase nodded and then took back the tea. There was a good chance that Jack had drunk half of it in that short amount of time. Jase started to walk toward the barn. I was dismissed. Just like that. The back of my throat burned, but I ignored it, wishing I had kept the tea. You and Avery coming to the party tonight, right? Jase asked, taking a sip of the tea. Its the luau. Were not missing that. Cam grinned, revealing the dimple in his left cheek. You guys need help setting it up? Jase shook his head. The newbies are in charge of that. He glanced over at me, and I thought for a second that hed ask if I was coming. Ive got a few things to take care of here rst and then Im heading back home. The stinging disappointment rose swiftly, mixing with the burn in my throat. I opened my mouth, but immediately snapped it shut. What could I say in front of my brother? A small hand tugged on the hem of my shirt and I looked down, into gray eyes that were both young and soulful.

Hi, Jack said. My lips stretched into a small grin. Hi to you. Youre pretty, he said, blinking. Thank you. A little laugh escaped me. It was ofcial. I liked this kid. Youre very handsome. Jack beamed. I know. I laughed again. This boy was denitely Jases little brother. All right, thats enough, Casanova. Jase nished off the tea and tossed it into a nearby garbage can. Stop hitting on the girl. He ignored Jase, sticking out his hand. Im Jack. I took the little hand in mine. Im Teresa. Cams my brother. Jack motioned me down with his chubby nger and whispered, Cam doesnt know how to saddle a horse. I glanced over at the boys. They were talking about the party, but Jase was watching us. Our gazes collided, and like hed been doing ever since I started at Shepherd, he broke eye contact with a distressing level of quickness. A pang of frustration lit up my chest as I returned my attention to Jack. Want to know a secret? Yeah! His smile grew big and broad. I dont know how to saddle a horse either. And Ive never even ridden one before. His eyes grew as wide as the moon. Jase! he bellowed, spinning toward his brother. Shes never ridden a horse before! Well, there went my secret. Jase glanced at me, and I shrugged. Its true. They scare the crap out of me. They shouldnt. Theyre pretty chill animals. Youd probably like it. You should show her! Jack rushed up to Jase,

practically latching himself onto his pants legs. You could teach her like you teached me! My heart lurched in my chest, partially at the proposition of Jase teaching me anything and due to my fear of those dinosaurs. Some people feared snakes or spiders. Or ghosts or zombies. I feared horses. Seemed like a legit fear considering a horse could stomp you to death. Its taught not teached, and Im sure Tess has got better things to do than ride around on a horse. Tess. I sucked in a breath. It was his nickname for me the only person who ever called me that, but I didnt mind it. Not at all. While Jack demanded to know why I had told him my name was Teresa and Jase explained that Tess was a nickname, I was sucked back into the memory of the last time hed called me that. You have no idea what you make me want, he said, his lips brushing my cheek, sending shivers down my spine. You have no fucking clue, Tess. Mind if I use the john before we get out of here? Ive got to get back, Cam said. I promised Avery dinner before the party. Ill show you, announced Jack, grabbing Cams hand. Jase arched a dark brow. Im sure he knows where the bathroom is. Its okay. Cam waved him off. Come on, little bud, lead the way. The two of them headed off toward the farmhouse, and we were ofcially alone. A hummingbird took ight in my chest, bouncing around like it was going to peck its way out of me as a warm breeze picked up, stirring the hairs that had escaped my ponytail. Jase watched Cam and Jack jog over the patchy green grass like a man watching the last life preserver being taken as the Titanic started to sink. Well, that was sort of offensive,

as if being alone with me was equivalent to drowning while being nom nomd on by cookie cutter sharks. I folded my arms across my chest, pursing my lips. Irritation pricked at my skin, but his obvious discomfort smarted like a bitch. It hadnt always been like this. And it denitely had been better between us, at least up until the night hed kissed me. Hows the leg? The fact that hed spoken startled me, and I stuttered, Uh, its not too bad. Barely hurts anymore. Cam told me about it when it happened. Sorry to hear that. Seriously. He paused, squinting as the line of his jaw tightened. When can you get back to dancing? I shifted my weight. I dont know. I hope soon, as long as my doctor clears me. So ngers crossed. Jases brows knitted. Fingers are crossed for you. Still, it sucks. I know how much dancing means to you. All I could do was nod, affected more than I shouldve been by the genuine sympathy in his voice. His gray eyes nally made their way back to mine, and I sucked in a breath. His eyes ... they never failed to stun me into stupidity or make me want to do crazy- insane things. Right now his eyes were a deep gray, like thunderclouds. Jase wasnt happy. Thrusting a hand through his damp hair, he exhaled deeply. A muscle in his jaw began to tick. The irritation inside me turned into something messy, causing the burn in the back of my throat to move up to my eyes. I had to keep telling myself that he didnt know that there was no way he couldve known and that the way I was feeling, the hurt and the brutal wound of rejection, wasnt his fault. I was just Cams little sister; the reason why Cam had gotten into so much trouble almost four years ago and why Jase

had started making the trip to our home every weekend. I was just a stolen kiss. That was all. I started to turn, to go wait in the truck for Cam before I did something embarrassing, like crying all over myself. My emotions had been all over the place since I injured my leg, and seeing Jase wasnt helping. Tess. Wait. Jase crossed the distance between us in one step with his long legs. Stopping close enough that his worn sneakers almost brushed my toes, he reached out toward me, his hand lingering by my cheek. He didnt touch me, but the heat from his hand branded my skin. We need to talk.

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